Raptors must decide on backup swingman as playoffs approach

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 9: Malcolm Miller
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 9: Malcolm Miller /

The Raptors are trying to nail down their roster as the season’s final month approaches. Having a reliable swingman on the bench is top priority. Who will it be?

The Toronto Raptors haven’t had a position battle since OG Anunoby took over at small forward. Norman Powell had been injured in Boston, and someone needed to plug the gap. That was all the way back in November…Game 13 in Houston, when the Raptors handed the Rockets what would be their only defeat in 21 games.

The roster has been remarkably stable, and why not? The second unit has been productive beyond coach Dwane Casey’s wildest dreams, and Anunoby, even when not scoring, has provided defense and grit with the starters.

TORONTO, ON – MARCH 9: Eric Gordon & Norman Powell
TORONTO, ON – MARCH 9: Eric Gordon & Norman Powell /

With OG sidelined by an ankle sprain, a sort-of positional battle has taken shape. The team has not been afraid to promote unlikely candidates to start in OG’s place (or, put another way, Casey isn’t messing with the bench bunch’s chemistry). As a result, we’ve seen a complete stranger, Malcolm Miller, get announced as a starter twice, while Norman has had the last three cracks.  He’ll get a fourth tonight against the Nets.

Waiting in the wings are Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown and Nigel Hayes. Roster spots are precious, and the Raptors don’t have many to spare. Richardson and McKinnie occupy the 13th and 14th, although both are suiting up for the Raptors 905 at the moment. Brown and Miller are on two-way deals, and Hayes has signed a 10-day contract. He could sign another by mutual consent, after which a decision would be required.

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Whew! This is getting complicated. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri didn’t find a buy-out candidate to his liking, or was spurned. It’s moot now; if the Raptors are going to find a useful shooting guard/small forward to buttress the playoff lineup, he’s going to emerge from those above.

And the winner is…

I suggest either Miller or Hayes is the most likely candidate to stick, if anyone does. I hope we see more of both of them, because I want to see how they handle themselves defensively. Given Casey’s predilection for giving people a serious chance, don’t be surprised if Hayes gets a start. If he can avoid the showboating, and concentrate on D while making shots in the flow, things could get even more interesting than they already are.

The Raptors have a back to back this week, at Indiana on Thursday night, then home against Dallas. Let’s keep our eyes peeled, particularly if OG’s return doesn’t occur until Sunday against the OKC Thunder. Nigel Hayes might get a moment in the spotlight before then.